Chapter 60 BWV 184 Erwünschtes Freudenlicht

The long desired light of joy.

Recit (tenor)--duet (sop/alto)--recit (tenor)--aria (tenor)--chorale--chorus.

The sixtieth cantata of the cycle for Whit Tuesday.

As with C 173 we again approach a work fashioned from a secular model, although in this case very little of the original survives. Thus we can say virtually nothing about the comparative settings nor of the particular relationships of words and music. What does seem to be accepted however, is the contention that like C 173 this was a hastily done conversion (Dürr p 367) very possibly by the same lyricist or even Bach himself. But as to any incisive critical analysis, the circumstances only allow us to derive what we can from the existing score.

Even so there are unknowns, for as Dürr regularly and rightly reminds us, a number of Bach’s early cantatas brought back in some haste for the first Leipzig cycle were later recast for reuse in the late 1720s or even afterwards. We often have no way of knowing if the version that has survived is precisely what was heard as a part of the first cycle or not.

Tenor recitative.

The text of the opening movement is formidable and, at almost thirty lines, is one of the longest secco recitatives that Bach set in the ecclesiastical cantatas, despite the last 15 bars of arioso. Dürr (ibid p 367) suggests that it follows closely the form of the secular model; it would seem easier and quicker to cobble new words to an existing melody than to begin afresh although that contention would be doubtful had a more concise stanza been adopted. We do notice, however, that Bach has not yet achieved the sophistication which he later demonstrated in the second cycle. There he infuses long texts with additional interest through continually varied combinations of recitative, chorale and ritornello, often with appropriate changes of tempo. In the earlier works, variety was usually achieved only by the addition of accompanying instruments and/or bars of arioso.

Here he makes use of both, most notably through the pair of flutes that flutters throughout above the tenor and continuo.

Indeed, the flutes do add welcome touches of colour with their trill-like figure, mostly on the first and second crotchets of each bar, but tempering predictability (to a degree) by occasional movement onto other beats. The verse paints the clichéd picture of the longed-for Shepherd who feeds our souls, loves and protects us and steers us away from the vanities of the earth to the grave and beyond. There is, in fact, quite a deal more in the same vein, too much to paraphrase and, considering that they had heard it all before, one wonders with what degree of patience congregation members received it when having to hear it all again; and at such length! The flutes suggest an appropriately pastoral scene, perhaps on this occasion more like chirping birds than acquiescent sheep.

The tempo quickens and the continuo takes on a more active and insistent quaver line for the last 12 bars of arioso. Here the call is given to follow [the shepherd] to the delights of the grave and the joyful acceptance of that event is stressed through the several melismas on Freuden----gladness. The scene appears to be set for a conventional pastoral movement and the duet confirms our expectations.

Soprano/alto aria.

It is not in the conventional gigue-like compound rhythms of 9/8 or 12/8 but the 3/8 time signature gives a similar impression whilst, perhaps, retaining a little more of the spirit of the rustic dance. At first sight it seems inordinately long at over 350 bars but it is worth bearing in mind that had it been in 12/8 it would have been well under 100, although probably taken a shade slower. The text divides neatly into two couplets----blessed and happy flock, approach Jesus with your thanks----and----reject the flatteries of earth, thereby ensuring your complete happiness. Each idea is taken as the basis for one of the da capo sections.

The 32-bar ritornello theme is notable for the contrast of ideas between the opening ‘country dance’ theme and the rapid burst of demi-semi-quavers erupting from bars 9 and 25.

It is fascinating to speculate about what image in the original text suggested these urgent and almost tempest-like outbursts which recur continually throughout the movement; clearly there is little in the surviving text which would suggest them. They are rather too frenetic to portray Christ’s happy flock although at a pinch we might accept them as symbolic of the dangerous and tempting enticements of this earth! We can only be reasonably sure of two things, that in the original composition they would have had a close connection to some image from the text and that Bach considered the pastoral-cum-dance character of the music to be suitable for adaptation to the later stanza.

Certainly, the proportion of non-contrapuntal homophonic writing of the two voices, largely acting as one, suggests a simplicity which is perfectly in line with the scene that has been set. Bach even contrives to place the important adjective----gesegnete----blessed----on appropriately sustained notes (bars 89-91). The interplay between the singers and the wind and strings in the middle section is delicately crafted and again, entirely suitable to the principal theme.

Tenor recitative.

The secco tenor recitative is a call to the chosen ones----rejoice, for there is no ecstasy which approaches this, reaching even those immured in sin----a Hero’s arm protects us and God shields us, routing our enemies and shirking not even the bitterness of the cross----nothing, then, can harm us and we can partake of the noble pastures and hope for the perfection of heavenly bliss. As before, the adherence to the model means that the music only broadly sustains the meaning. The graphic images in the middle are presented rather mildly and with very little of the drama we have come to expect from many of the early works, the main concession to dramatic spectacle being the chromatic migration through a series of minor keys.

The two melismas underpinning the joy of the mortals (bars 4 and 6) are coincidental but perhaps the most perfect concurrence of words and music comes in the closing arioso representing the bliss of heaven. There is also a marvellously expressive moment when it is asserted that no further harm can befall the flock (bars 18-19).

But had Bach been composing the movement anew, one would have expected such a tender phrase to accompany the reference to the cross which came two bars earlier. Perhaps Bach also took some satisfaction from the metaphorical ascending in pitch; structurally, the movement begins in C major and ends a tone higher in D.

Tenor aria.

The tenor aria with solo violin obbligato is, perhaps, the most enduringly appealing movement of this cantata; for one thing it is the only one of the six movements in the minor mode. The text again falls neatly into two couplets----joy and fortune are now prepared for the consecrated assembly----Jesus brings the golden age for those who come to Him. The form is not the expected da capo, however, but an adapted ternary/ritornello. There is a clear middle section (from bar 51) and a reprise of the beginning (from bar 75) but Bach alters the ending in order to ensure that he remains in the home key of Bm.

Presumably Bach would have considered the relentless continuo quavers suitable for the portrayal of the massing throngs. There are figures in the violin line which could suggest the reaching up in order to crown the Saviour, His light and His benefice; but we know that these were not part of the conception.

Once again the best we can do is to note Bach’s recognition of a number of pre-existing musical features which fitted reasonably well with the new text. Or perhaps this is one of those occasions when we can afford to forget the connections between words and music and just enjoy the latter, as we might do with any perfect instrumental trio movement.


Why the chorale comes next instead of last cannot be easily explained. The reasons might have had their roots in the secular version but that is probably not the case. Dürr points out that there was originally a recitative at this point which the chorale replaced (p 368). One may assume that Bach felt that the tenor aria and the final chorus needed a degree of separation and the chorale, like the recitative before it, served that purpose. It does, however, demonstrate that Bach was still by no means wedded to the concept of the reflective chorale as an inevitable conclusion.

The text is a prayer of aspiration----Lord God I hope that You will not leave the true servants of Your word in distress----grant them salvation, protect them from ruin and allow me to die in happy contentment. The line seeking salvation is spread across two one-bar phrases following the double bar line, thus emphasising this as the most significant part of the entreaty.


The closing chorus shows every sign, like that from C 173 of the previous week, of being hurriedly adapted from a duet. Both take the form of a suite movement, the first a minuet and this a gavotte. If anything, the latter appears to be even more of a rushed job, the minimal homophonic chordal parts taking up a mere twelve bars in all! The entire middle section consists of a duet for bass and soprano with a few interjections, never more than a couple of bars at a time, from the flute and upper strings. One casualty of the restoration to full choir of the outer sections is the bubbling flute part. Low in its register, it is effective enough in a duet but a choir of even two voices per part can render much of it inaudible.

The text is a call to the Good Shepherd to comfort His people with His Holy Words. It is made by means of the few bars of four-part chorus in the outer sections and presumably represents a collective appeal. The middle section duet seems more personal----let Your countenance shine, may God remain as our refuge and His powerful hands guide us. Once more, and finally for this cantata, Bach creates advantage from circumstance and allows the two contrasted sections to represent different forms of devotion, the public and the private. The stately gavotte is often used by Bach when the text refers, sometimes quite obliquely, to our ultimate journey to Heaven.

Another version of this gavotte will be encountered in the secular cantata C 213 (chapter 94).

It cannot be claimed that this is one of the greatest of the cantatas but it represents a standard of workmanship of a kind that Bach never sank beneath. Bearing in mind the pressures he was under at this stage of his first year at Leipzig (referred to in previous chapters) it may surprise some that he produced even a piece as effective as this sometimes charming, but ultimately run of the mill composition.


Copyright: J Mincham 2010.   Revised 2012.
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